January 2014


THE SPEED OF GOING NOWHERE

By
Paul Sohar
Second Place Nonfiction


Tourists often have their pockets picked or their purses snatched, but instead, I had a whole street stolen from me while on tour of Cusco, Peru. It was no tragedy though, the street was returned to me the next day, and the theft was not done by a wily local thief but a neurological condition that preys on me regardless of where I might be. The street in question was a small side street comprising one side of a baroque plaza, a quadrangle enclosed by a large church on one side with a long monastery building attached at right angle to it. A similar structure dominated the third side of the plaza with a narrow but busy roadway separating it from the plaza, and it was that building that was somehow brought up to the edge of the plaza, all the way to the corner of the monastery, so that the plaza remained open only on the fourth side, a busier boulevard. Architecturally the new arrangement didn’t make any sense, but city planning was still in its infancy four hundred years ago, and I accepted the strange layout as I found it. The deception was only revealed to me the next day on my return to the spot and I filed the incident with the other perceptual difficulties I had experienced, many of them a lot more dramatic but none of them comparable in scale.

On my next visit to my neurologist he suggested I turn my visions into art. Might as well make good use of them. The idea immediately inflamed my mind; for a moment I fancied myself in an artist’s studio with an exciting surrealist masterpiece flawlessly flowing out of my brush, something along the lines of a painting by Magritte or Dali. Like a door bursting into flames, an uncanny highway wiggling in front of me, teasing me, etc. However, when you come down to it, all these things are ordinary, everyday objects in extraordinary arrangement, only the same reality we live with every day except with some crucial feature removed or blocked out. But how can you indicate that things are in disorder? How can you paint something that’s supposed to be there but isn’t? An empty room can suggest the absence of people and perhaps even the nostalgia of those remembering the place now somewhere far away but that would involve yet another painting. What would a city scene look like with a street missing? Just like any other city unless there was an explanation to the effect a street is missing from the picture, which would make more like a joke than a work of art. Art is supposed to be exhilarating, intriguing and exciting but not funny. Surrealist defiance of reality suggests a mischievous mind, not a mundane one. Flames are a trope of the surrealist school, they’re out, and the second most dramatic vision I ever had was a blank wall, again a dull subject. It would require an explanation that it is not a real wall, but if it’s a painting it is by definition an artifact or artifice, everyone knows that, and the drama of my wall lay in its location: clear across Interstate 78. My wall was frightening and meaningful, because I was driving toward it at 70 mph, but how do you picture speed? Speed must be felt, it does not lend itself to pictorial representation. No matter how scary the feeling, speeding toward a wall is a physical phenomenon, perhaps best imagined in terms of a film, a motion picture. Its subject would make it a very short one, only seconds long, a few excruciating seconds. That’s how long it took me to crash through that concrete wall that had erected itself across the Interstate without any warning. I had no choice but act on the courage of my conviction that the wall was only a figment of my imagination. Clearly, my perception could be compromised but my logic remained firm and unwavering: no wall could possibly build itself across the highway, ergo, there was no wall and I could feel free to defy it.

Whatever happens, whatever appears on the horizon due to the machinations of wayward neurological activity, I could always assure myself of the certainty of Pure Reason, which overrides the vagaries of malfunctioning perception. Flames from a resentful bathroom door? A wall rising in front of my speeding car on a 3-lane highway? Nonsense, I said, there’s no reason for such things; therefore, they do not exist.

The only thing about that wall-across-the-highway trick that worried me was the possibility of my rear-ending a slow poke or a truck that was hidden from my view. It still gives me the shivers when I think about it, but at 70 mph you don’t have much time to think. You have to act – or let things happen as they will. Luckily, on the other side of the wall I found myself in the normal flow of traffic and nothing happened. Except that in short order, in less than fifteen minutes another wall rose up before me. And getting off the Interstate didn’t help either; the road continued to surprise me with new tricks such as moving from side to side and rippling like a rug as if shaken by playful goblins. But I did not see the goblins, so I cannot truthfully put them in the picture, and without them the picture is rather tame, lacking in drama, in the impending doom implied by the speed and the danger. In fact what I saw was trivial as compared to what I felt, and there’s no way art can convey any of this mood. Maybe music could, but I’m no musician… No film maker, no musician, no one special, except someone with seizure problem tries to understand his condition.

Of course, at one point there was a crash, and perhaps the wreck could’ve qualified by today’s artistic standards as an object of art, but I’m sure that was not what my good doctor had in mind, especially when he signed off on the reinstatement of my driver’s license. No, I did not find my metre of expression until another incident also involving the car. It was a particularly hectic evening; in spite of my poor health and nervous condition I committed myself to two events: an art opening at six p.m. and then a lecture some 15 miles away at eight p.m. I got to the provincial art center about quarter to six, parked in the small unpaved lot facing a tree and took out some reading material to pass the time. But I never got to my papers; to my surprise and mounting horror the car did not come to a halt but continued racing toward that tree even though the shift was in park and I was pressing down on the brake as hard as I could. By all logical definitions, the car was safely parked on level ground, and yet the tree, only about 4-5 feet from the car grill was rushing at me at breakneck speed. There was nothing I could do to stop it. Strangely enough, though, the distance between the front of the car and the tree remained constant. Furthermore, looking to the side, at the red brick art center, it seemed I was not moving at all. The building just stood still like it was supposed to, and I was sitting in a safely parked car at a standstill. Looking ahead, though, again I found myself hurled forward at a horrifying speed, pregnant with imminent crash.

Finally I solved the problem by fleeing that crazy vehicle and taking refuge in the art exhibit – which turned out to be nothing nearly as exciting as sitting in the parked car, but by then it was not excitement I was after but safety, a feeling of security, no matter how mundane. An hour later I snuck back into my car, backed away from the tree without looking at it, and drove to the state university campus at a speed that made some drivers around me very impatient, some of them downright rude. The lecture turned out to be just the usual propaganda for the agenda of the day thinly disguised as sociology, but its dull predictability was balm for my tired nerves. Afterwards, I drove home safe and sound.

Now in retrospect, this incident stands out among all my hallucinatory experiences as the one that can lend itself to creative elaboration. An episode that’s in constant motion and at the same time stationary, an episode I can isolate from the other events surrounding it, preserve it and examine it for possible meaningful contents. The one thing it lacks is artistic inspiration; it suggests no alternate image to represent it as a way of understanding it. The approach it calls for must be logical, dry and matter of fact. In other words: scientific.

Suppose the speed I sensed in the parked car, the motion I experienced as a feeling rushing through my whole being, was real, and it was not just any speed but a special kind; it had to be faster than the speed of light. Suppose I was moving at such a speed that I could circle the globe and catch up with myself; in other words, I was traveling at infinite speed!

In that case all my material substance – and that of the car – had to be converted into energy. Without solid matter to hinder me I was driving right through that tree without any harm either to the tree or myself, or the car. We don’t want the insurance company involved in this discourse, nor the Motor Vehicle Commission. Let’s just stick to scientific facts.

Can there be any basis for the above supposition? Let’s examine the phenomenon in detail. Namely, I was moving fast and yet without bumping into anything. Who, or what, can do that? And circle the Earth so fast that it catches up with itself, as it appears to stand still? And yet keep moving? I have a feeling we’re in Einstein territory, lost somewhere in the tangled theory of relativity, and the only way out of here is by the route of a brand new theory. Converted as I am to pure energy I now feel ready to meet that challenge.

To move without moving simply means moving without a time factor involved, moving at a speed without any limits imposed on it. Moving at an infinite rate of speed; a new form of physics with the time element neutralized. Get it? The conventional formula for speed is distance (in this case the circumference of Earth) divided by time which is zero in this situation. The rest is simple math: anything divided by zero results in infinity, and that’s what we arrive at for the velocity of my parked car. Quod erat demonstrandum.

In effect, what happened to me in the arts center parking lot was outside the limitations and definitions normally imposed on the mind by time. At Hadron Collider scientists are always on the lookout for new, undiscovered particles; from now on they should be looking for me circling Earth, an immaterial object of mystery and undetectable by any form of instrumentation since I have no mass, no spin, no charge (positive or negative), no allegiances, no direction; I have only speed, or at least I did so demonstrably on that one occasion which means it can be going on all the time without my being aware of it.

In effect, I am speed, pure speed when I collide with that moment in the life of that special person who has the ability to stop that moment and freeze it into nothing; nonexistence. In effect, the nonexistence of time gives rise to my existence as pure speed, and that’s a scientifically proven and mathematically derived fact.

Nitpickers may insist that I could not possibly be moving at all, because even at the speed of light – the highest allowed by conventional relativist physics – I should use up some time catching up with myself and eventually get closer to the tree, perhaps even crash into it. But I say infinity can be achieved only by dividing a value by zero; ergo, time elapsed while sitting in the car must be zero in the equation. What I have experienced in the car was nothing less, nothing more than the stopping of time, a feat philosophers had dreamed about from ancient times to our day. We’re talking about immortality. My only question now is whether I should suppress my newly discovered state of timelessness with anti-seizure medication as prescribed by my neurologist. Is my driver’s license that important? Or can I get by walking? What is to stop me from throwing caution and my driver’s license to the wind and proceed with the great experiment in immortality?

This essay did not start out as a scientific treatise; it was supposed to lay the foundation for a new genre in the arts, but I’m a determined investigator, hell-bound to follow through whatever fate throws my way; if at the end science trumps the arts, let it be science. There was a time when the two fields of human endeavor were not so far apart, and perhaps this would-be artist’s foray into science will redress the balance again.